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Duran Duran attend court hearing over US copyrights

Published 14/11/2016

Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor leave the Rolls Building in central London after a US copyright hearing
Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor leave the Rolls Building in central London after a US copyright hearing

Members of pop group Duran Duran are involved in a critical legal battle over US copyright in their first three albums.

Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor were at London's High Court on Monday to assert their right to end agreements with major publishers Gloucester Place Music - ultimately owned by US business Sony/ATV.

A fourth group member, John Taylor, is in the US. Former member Andrew Taylor is also involved in the case but did not attend court.

Lawyers for Gloucester Place, which is part of EMI Music Publishing, are asking a judge to declare that the group members have breached music publishing agreements by serving notices to terminate the grant to the company of US copyrights in Duran Duran works.

Under US law, songwriters have "an inalienable right" to call for a reversion of copyright after 35 years.

But Gloucester Place says the agreements with the group members are governed by English laws of contract which prevent them seeking to take back copyright in their first three albums - Duran Duran, Rio and Seven And The Ragged Tiger - plus A View To A Kill, the first Bond film title track to go to the top of the US Billboard charts.

Rhodes said: " We sincerely hope that this cynical attempt to deny us the opportunity offered to all songwriters in the US, to reclaim their copyrights after 35 years, will be dismissed outright by the British courts."

Experts in copyright law say the case is of importance to all other songwriters subject to contracts similar to those Duran Duran members signed.

The 1980 agreements at the centre of the case were made with the band members personally and all are referred to as "the writers".

The group members have all given notice of reversion relying on section 203 of the US Copyright Act 1976, which, their lawyers say, allows for the automatic termination of rights after 35 years.

Ian Mill QC, appearing for Gloucester Place, said: "My clients entered into contracts and agreed to pay these artistes sums of money both by way of royalties in return for which the artistes promised to give them rights to exploit, subject to the payment of those sums, for the full term of copyright."

Mr Mill told Chancery Division judge Mr Justice Arnold the issue before the court was "one of pure contractural construction", and he complained that written submissions on behalf of Duran Duran contained "intemperate language".

He argued that, on a correct construction, the terms of the contracts meant that "these writers have agreed that they will not seek to obtain a reversion of their copyrights under section 203 and they are in breach of contract should they do so".

Michael Bloch QC, for the Duran Duran members, argued that the "shameful" Gloucester Place case was "as feeble as it is greedy".

He said the implications of the case were potentially far reaching.

"If the publishers were right, the English court may serve as an offshore haven for any of their ilk who wish to defeat the protective provisions of the US - the principal market for popular music in the English language - or any similar legislation elsewhere," argued Mr Bloch.

The publishers were asking the court to attribute a meaning to the "bland language" of the agreements which would be oppressive and controversial and would create "a precedent to which they have no right."

Outside court, Rhodes said: "US copyright law clearly states that songwriters are permitted to apply for a reversion of their copyrights after a 35 year period.

"This provision was instigated to help rebalance the often unfair deals which artists sign early in their careers when they have little choice to try to get their first break, with no negotiating power and virtually no understanding of what their copyrights really mean for the future.

"When we registered a request, in 2014, for the reversion of our eligible copyrights in America, we understood it to be a formality.

"Regrettably Sony/ATV have decided to challenge our rights under the premise of a contractual technicality in the UK and have elected to take legal action against us.

"We felt we had absolutely no choice but to stand up for ourselves, and indeed all other artists, who are likely to suffer similar circumstances."

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